Grand Canyon Trip Report
The phrase “pictures don’t do it justice” is cliche’ and overused when describing just how magnificant the Grand Canyon really is. However there’s a reason you hear almost everyone, who has visited the canyon, use that saying to describe just how grand it really is... because it’s true.
John Wesley Powell, who led the first expedition into the Grand Canyon, said it best.
"The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustrations combined must fail."
I could throw the thesaurus at you and use every adjective available to describe our hike through the desert landscape of the Grand Canyon but I won’t. Instead I’ll share my daily log from our backpacking trip which covered 43 miles over five days and span from some of the highest points on the south rim to the Colorado River at the bottom.
Hiked down the South Kaibab trail to Bright Angel Camp Ground. We left the south rim at about 8:30a and arrived at B.A. around 1:30p. It’s truly an amazing hike. Around every twist and turn on the trail were either a 360 degree panoramic view of distant buttes or an overlook that dropped thousands of feet. So far it has been a nice, relaxing hike. Stopped in the Phantom Ranch canteen and mailed some postcards and relaxed around camp. Tomorrow we head to Horn Creek.
Started the day with oatmeal and coffee. Food always taste better in the backcountry (until you’ve eaten it for five days and then you’re ready for a meal that wasn’t cooked over a camping stove.) Sipping the morning joe while watching the sun hit the canyon rim 4,000 feet above.
Had a strenuous climb up the Bright Angel trail this morning to Indian Garden camp ground, five miles and approximately 1,000 to 1,500 feet of elevation gain. We’ve been relaxing at I.G. in the heat of the day. It has been a nice break! Temperatures are in the upper 70’s and low 80’s but in the hot, desert sun it shoots up into the high 90’s or right around 100 degrees. I feel like I’ve been cheating so far on this hike. We’ve had water sources and pit toilets at every stop. I think things are going to get a little more wild once we hit the Tonto Trail.
The Tonto is a lot more wild and exposed then I had anticipated. As soon as you leave the comforts of the corridor trails you immediately realize how isolated you are in the backcountry of the canyon. It’s very strange to go from full campsites and facilities to pitching our tent in what seems the furthest reaches of the canyon. It is so eerily quiet out here without the sounds of other campers. We arrived at Horn Creek about 5:15p cooked and ate dinner. I’ve picked out my spot for coffee and breakfast while watching the sunrise in the morning. Part of me is excited about the isolation while another part hopes I know what I’m doing!
I think we both were a lot more comfortable with the Tonto today. Ticked off 10 miles and now we’ve set up camp on a beach overlooking the Colorado at Granite Rapids. The last mile and a half were pretty thrilling. We followed a slot canyon down, walking in Monument Creek and sliding down waterfalls. Now we’ve got the whole beach to ourselves. Second night not having to share a campsite with anyone. I thought that was unheard of in the Grand Canyon.
Our routine continued of hiking in the morning and arriving at camp in time to retreat into the shade away from the hot Arizona sun. We sat under the tent rainfly which we fastened to a tree and snacked on peanut butter and honey sandwiches and trail mix. The Tonto is hot and provides no protection from the elements except at the occasional small oasis near the creeks flowing down the canyon into the valley. A Tonto trail mile feel a lot longer than other trails. Never have I felt so exposed and isolated while hiking as on this trail. Our last stop before heading out of the canyon is at the Hermit Creek campsite. The camp sits above a creek with a waterfall flowing into a small pool. We sat in the pool during the afternoon and rested up for our final push up and out of the Grand Canyon.
We awoke at 3:30a to a bright, nearly full moon peaking out from behind one of the canyon buttes. The stars were bright and vivid and I watched as a satellite moved across the early morning sky. We boiled water for coffee and oatmeal with the light of our headlamps and packed up camp in silence as nearby hikers continued to sleep. We were on the trail by 4:30a... focused and ready for what we knew would be a challenging hike ahead. After about a mile we came to the intersection with the Hermit Trail and started the ascent. As dawn came we were able to hike without our headlamps and by sunrise we had reached the Cathedral Stairs, a steep, loose section of switchbacks, the first real challenge of the hike. Much of the trail was rocky and narrow which lived up to it’s reputation since it’s unmaintained by the National Park Service. Several section were nothing more than giant boulders, the result of rock slides, we had to scramble over. Even though the trail was rough, it was awesome to see the canyon from up high once again, the first time in nearly five days. We reached the Santa Maria Spring about 8:00a and stopped for a few minutes to enjoy the shelter and rocking chair. The last 2.2 miles of trail was the most difficult by far. Few switchbacks and lots of elevation gain meant we climbed long, sustained sections straight up the side of the canyon. As we got closer to the top we could see sunlight and were certain the end was around every corner, only to be greeted with another switchback. At about 9:15a we made it to the top.